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Franz WAXMAN (1906-1967)
Objective, Burma! (restoration by John Morgan) (1945) [71:38]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg
rec. October 1999, Mosfilm Studio, Moscow. DDD
re-issue of Marco Polo 8.225148
NAXOS 8.557706 [71:38]

Born Franz Wachsmann in Königshutte, Upper Silesia, Germany - now Chorzów, Poland - on Christmas Eve 1906, he first worked as a bank teller. His was an unmusical family and his father did not believe that a musical career would be financially rewarding. He stuck the bank for two years before moving to Berlin and the serious study of music. In the 1920s he played the piano in the Weintraub Syncopaters, a popular jazz band of the time. He made arrangements for them, and this led to his orchestrating some early German films. It was Friedrich Hollander who gave Waxman his first important film assignment - orchestrating and conducting his score for the first important German talkie: Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel.

The rise of Nazism saw Wachsmann’s emigration and by 1934, as Franz Waxman, he was in the USA, writing his first original score the following year: for James Whales’ The Bride of Frankenstein. This astonishing piece of work contains a magnificent long sequence for the creation of the Bride, about which David Raksin (how about giving us some of his music, Naxos?) has written: "…the lady turns out to be the wondrous Elsa Lanchester, and…she [lets] the monster know that, whatever his plans may be, she has a headache. The post-Wagner, post-Strauß (post-mortem?) effusion that accompanies this inspired nonsense is masterful." Raksin goes on to describe the music as a "… coroner's version of the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde". In all the scores written in the seventy-odd years since The Bride of Frankenstein, I find this sequence one of the most awe-inspiring of all music for film. It is worth mentioning that despite the Bride’s rejection of the Monster we must never forget that even Monsters need love!

Following this early success, Waxman wrote approximately 150 scores for film and television – winning two Oscars and a Golden Globe, and receiving another eight Oscar nominations. There were also numerous concert works, and, in 1947, he founded the Los Angeles International Music Festival. This was the scene of World and American premières of eighty major works by composers as diverse as Stravinsky, Walton, Vaughan Williams, Shostakovich and Schönberg. He died, from cancer, on 24 February 1967, in Los Angeles at a mere 60 years of age. Despite his relatively short Hollywood career of a little over thirty years, only Max Steiner - who was nearly twenty years older and wrote an almost unbelievable amount of music for film not to mention arrangements of musicals - was a more prolific composer!

Objective Burma! concerns a commando-style raid in Japanese-occupied Burma, where the all-American team, led by Errol Flynn, must locate and destroy a Japanese radar station. All goes well until the men fail to make their rendezvous with their aeroplane for the journey home, due to the Japanese waiting for them at the airstrip. They are forced to make their own way, on foot, through enemy-occupied jungle.

Filmed in 1944 and 1945 Objective Burma! was made using authentic World War 2 American military materials, aircraft and gliders, and the whole is very credible, especially given the fact that it was shot entirely in California! However, given the fact that the Burmese conflict had been mainly a British, Indian and Commonwealth affair, the film was withdrawn from release in the UK until 1952. An interesting, short, article, World War II: China-Burma-India (CBI) Theatre – April 1942 to January 1945: The Siege of Imphal-Kohima by Lalit Pukhrambam Ph.D. can be found at Despite historical inaccuracies, which had nothing to do with the music, Waxman’s score was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture section.

As in all the Marco Polo/Naxos film score recordings the work of John Morgan cannot be overlooked. His fine note explains how he and the conductor went about ensuring that the project would be totally faithful to the composer - and not to the film. This meant that several sections not used in the film itself would be restored and heard in the context of the complete score. And what a score it is! As you’d expect, due to the subject matter, there is some tub-thumping military-style music but the score is not without its serious moments or moments of sorrow and regret: just listen to the tear jerking Williams’ Death [end of track 10]. Waxman handles a very large orchestra with ease, using all the colours available to him. Although he didn’t actually write out the full orchestral score himself, as was usual in Hollywood, he would specify which instruments played what in his short score so it is Waxman’s orchestration we are hearing. Indeed, so good is the orchestration - mainly by Leonid Raab working with the composer, with some restoration by John Morgan and William Stromberg - that I found myself simply listening to the music as absolute music and forgetting about any other connection the music might have. True, it makes a strange kind of suite when listened to in this way but it’s still very enjoyable.

The recorded sound is superb, capturing the large orchestra easily and giving a good perspective of the wide dynamic range of the music. The excellent booklet contains separate essays on the making of the film and the score itself by Rudy Behlmer, a biography of director Raoul Walsh by Jack Smith and John Morgan’s notes on the reconstruction of the score.

Another success for Naxos in its Film Music Classics series.

Bob Briggs


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